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COVID-19 increases domestic violence in Bangladesh

Arafatul Islam
May 12, 2020

Violence against women and children is on the rise in Bangladesh amid the COVID-19 lockdown, according to reports. Experts say a lack of social activities and financial pressures are increasing rifts within families.

Domestic violence symbolic picture
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

On April 15, Obaidul Haque Tutul, a Bangladeshi man, livestreamed the murder of his wife on Facebook. The incident shocked the country, especially those who watched it. For a moment they couldn't even react to it, as they couldn't believe what was actually happening.

Tatul killed his wife Tahmina Akhter with a machete in his home, reportedly over a financial dispute. After committing the crime, Tutul turned himself in to local police. The horrific video has been taken down from the social media platform.

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The incident took place amid a countrywide lockdown in Bangladesh to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected nearly 16,000 people and killed more than 230 across the nation.

Rights activists say the lockdown has made women and children more vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse as many of them are confined to their homes with no outside support.

Read more: Domestic violence rises amid coronavirus lockdowns in Asia

'Frustrated' men lash out

According to a recent survey by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), a local human rights organization, at least 4,249 women and 456 children were subjected to domestic violence in 27 out of 64 districts of Bangladesh in April, with 1,672 women and 424 children facing violence for the first time in their lives.

"The women, who faced domestic violence for the first time, blame the lockdown for their situation. They say that their husbands are becoming increasingly frustrated at home due to a lack of social interaction," Arpita Das, a coordinator at the MJF, told DW.

"Men are angry about losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Some are venting their frustration by torturing their wives," she added.

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The MJF interviewed some 17,000 women and children for the survey, which revealed that 848 women were tortured physically, 2,008 mentally, 85 sexually, and some 1,308 faced financial restrictions from their husbands. The survey also said that four women were raped, one killed, and 20 women were sexually assaulted by people not related to them in April.

The organization says the situation is similar in areas that were not included in the survey.

Shaheen Anam, executive director of the MJF, says the family feuds have increased during the coronavirus lockdown.

"Tensions are growing within families. Men are not working, they can't go out to meet their friends," Anam told DW, adding that the household work for women has also increased during the lockdown.

Early marriages

Around 92% of the children interviewed by the MJF have been abused by their parents or other family members; 14 were raped, 16 faced attempted rape, two were kidnapped, and 10 were sexually abused.

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Some families married off girls to ease the financial burden.

"The coronavirus lockdown has increased financial pressure on these families. Some parents decided to marry off their underage daughters to reduce the burden," Arpita Das, a human rights activist, told DW.

"Child marriage is illegal in Bangladesh. But in the present situation, law enforcement agencies and local administrators are busy dealing with coronavirus. Some families are taking it as an opportunity to arrange marriages for their daughters," Das added.

Limited opportunities to complain

Experts say the opportunities to directly help women in distress will remain limited as long as the lockdown continues.

"Legal actions can be taken when a woman faces domestic violence. However, many of them can't even report abuse on the phone," said Anam. "They are always surrounded by their husbands or other family members."

MJF's Das says that abusers tend to keep an eye on their victims so that they can't tell others about the abuse.

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